That winding road up from Cairns to the Atherton Tableland, Australia always promises such a lot, and delivers on it. Most often we have taken the more well driven path up past Kuranda village. Kuranda is the rainforest market town and makes for an easy stop of if you are visiting the Atherton Tableland from that direction. I don't really consider it part of the tableland however as it is only at about half the altitude although about 4 of 5 degrees cooler than Cairns and less humid.
Past Kuranda and on the way to rodeo town of Mareeba the rainforest gives way to dry woodland with tall red termite mounds protruding out of the surface. In this part of the world the landscape changes from green to brown to green again quite easily depending on weather the slope catches the more than ample tropical coastal showers or not. Mareeba which is home to coffee and tropical fruit plantations and is kind of a gateway to the outback beyond. We once went over the tableland out out to see the outback caves at Chillagoe and it was well worth it.
While working as a hotel porter in Cairns in what now seems like a lifetime ago I got to take lot's of familiarisation tours to this part of the world. One time April insisted we take a tour of the world chocolate museum at Mareeba (in the industrial estate) which we did. She tried the all you can eat chocolate and I the locally sourced single origin coffee package and we both left flying high on caffeine. The tour and museum continue to operate.
On another tour we went further south west to Herberton where there is a historical village full of old buildings from the area. Apparently it was put together by the guys who used to run the Jeans West company. Anyway if you and your kids are interested in old things all the shops, schools, post offices and the like are full decked out in their historical gab.
In another lifetime of mine I camped with backpackers at Tinaroo Dam behind Mareeba. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a huge Cassowary strolling out of the rainforest. This huge bird as big as an emu eats the forest fruits and have been known to push tourists off cliffs in the area. I know the dam is family friendly however as I have fond memories of rolling down the grassy slopes and marvelling at the dam spillway as a young boy. We also have enjoyed feeding a large number of little, cute, rock wallabies in one of the tourist parks behind Mareeba which are happy to approach.
Further South from Mareeba is the town of Atherton which is largely surrounded by rainforest. Some of the areas most outstanding attractions like the crater lakes which fill up with fresh water and are stunningly beautiful. We walked around Lake Echam one time jumping over snakes and pulling leaches out of our feet. I am not the adventurous type usually but somehow this area inspires. While you are up it's worth making the effort to check out some of the waterfalls on the waterfall circuit down by Milla Milla on the way to Innisfail.
Another spot I visited on that childhood trip was Paronella Park. This park took on almost mythical proportions in my mind as a child and I simply had not seen anything as imaginative or mythical before it or for a long time afterwards. I wonder if this sparked only my imagination or if the place has a universal appeal to all kids because of all it's waterfalls, arches and the labyrinth of stonework which have created this lush tropical world out of the rain forest. When I revisited this place on one of those hotel trips with my wife she was equally impressed by the place. We learned that grand balls were once held here, and the constructions were reinforced with railway lines – at about the same time as lots of railway line went missing from the local railway.
At Yungaburra there is also a farmers market and the road up from Gordonvale is stunning but has a lot more twists and turns than the other roads up.